Some Ontario researchers say the province’s residents who were already among the poorest and most vulnerable before COVID-19 are now worse off than before.
A new report from McMaster University’s political science and social studies department highlights how things are “not back to normal” after the peak of the pandemic for Ontarians who rely on welfare.
In fact, research has found that those relying on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) are worse off than before because social a*sistance rates have not increased to keep up with the surge rents and food prices.
Associate Professor Peter Graefe says many low-income people in Hamilton and across the province are ‘trapped’ by ‘giant rents’ and don’t dare move because they are unlikely to find housing of their standard affordable.
“Obviously, this becomes much more important for people whose total income is around $1,200 a month,” Grafe said. “A large part of which must be paid for rent, food, clothing or transportation. »
The latest research draws on survey questions conducted in 2020 in conjunction with the Hamilton Roundtable on Reducing Poverty during which Ontarians over the age of 18 and not retired shared stories about poverty. impact of COVID-19 on workers, families and workplaces across the province.
In 2022, 16 of these people were interviewed again to find out whether their situation had improved or worsened in two years.
ODSP recipients said they emerged from the pandemic further behind, with little savings and fewer connections to their community.
Two of those interviewed were not eligible for any additional benefits when the federal and provincial governments rolled out aid during the pandemic, such as the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
More than 20.7 million people across Canada have received some form of financial support from the government to fight COVID-19, including 16.9 million who have received a top-up from existing programs.
Approximately 7.6 million people received the CERB, while approximately 1.1 million received the Canada Recovery Benefit (PCRE).
Only about 19.7 per cent of Ontario social a*sistance recipients across the province met the standards that allowed them to participate in the CERB and CRB.
Between April and July 2020, ODSP recipients were able to apply for a special monthly pandemic top-up, but government records show only about 39 percent of ODSP individuals or families got it.
During the pandemic, the maximum ODSP benefit remained at about $1,300 per month, which Grafe staff calculated to be about $800 per month below the poverty line using the after-tax low-income measure.
Seven respondents who worked part-time or earned some income revealed that their income was clawed back from their benefits at a rate of 50 percent after the first $200.
Grafe says of the people he has hired, finances, housing and even health, in many cases, have become even more desperate due to inflation, particularly because of food prices.
“I think there is a real looming homelessness crisis for this population in the sense that the ability to get housing with that amount of money is really almost impossible,” he suggested.
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“People who have found solutions in the past by sharing housing or finding really cheap housing are gradually finding themselves unable to maintain their housing. »
Director of the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, Tom Cooper, echoes these observations, confirming that his advocacy group has found the same thing: many people on welfare are still suffering “deeply” today following the worst of the pandemic.
“It is essential that the provincial government take immediate action to reform Ontario’s broken social a*sistance system, which has left almost all recipients at risk of homelessness, poor health and deep hunger.” , Cooper said.
McMaster’s study echoes Cooper’s a*sessment and also suggests that the federal and provincial governments need to increase current rates of social support, particularly for people with disabilities.
Since the survey, the province has taken steps to improve the outlook by increasing ODSP by 5 per cent in 2022 and an additional 6.5 per cent in 2023, based on inflation.
Future increases to ODSP and the monthly Assistance for Severely Disabled Children (ACSD) amount will also be linked to inflation in the future.
Additionally, working claimants can now keep the first $1,000 they earn before facing a 75 percent clawback rate.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services told PKBNEWS the idea behind the increase was “to create more incentives for beneficiaries to seek employment.”
Meanwhile, Ottawa has begun an engagement process to design the Canada Disability Benefit Regulations – aimed at reducing poverty and supporting the financial security of working-age people with disabilities.
The federal government is also in the midst of an $82 billion, 10-year national housing strategy plan to address the housing shortage crisis, including a $133 million investment in several Hamilton programs targeting below-market rental housing.
– with files from The Canadian Press
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